"For the record", an article on Philippine education during the Spanish era

                           By Bambi Harper

IN HIS book "Estado Geografico, Topografico, Estadistico", Fr. Felix Huertas 
in 1855 discusses the state of education in that era.

Contrary to the advice of Sinibaldo de Mas, the liberals in government must 
have decided that they preferred an educated populace. Public school 
education was introduced in Spain only in the middle of the 19th century and 
certainly not in any other colony of any other European power in Asia. The 
concept of mass education was relatively new, an offshoot of the 18th 
century Age of Enlightenment.

Through the royal decree of Dec. 20, 1863, primary instruction was 
established in the Philippines through the creation of the Normal School of 
Manila, making it obligatory, with the corresponding responsibility of the 
parents, tutors or guardians of poor children spelled out. Schools were 
classified according to theior admission, their advancement, and the 
teaching staff, and rules were given on these.

Other rules were issued later, among them the Superior Decree of Sept. 12, 
1863, complementing what was ordered in the original legislation focusing on 
improving primary education and the best development of the teaching of 
Spanish among the natives. The decree organized a corps of substitute 

To conform with these decrees and orders, each town in the archipelago had 
to have schools for boys, girls and adults, one for each class in which 
Christian doctrine (Doctrina Cristiana), morals and sacred history, reading, 
writing, Spanish, basic arithmetic (up to decimal numbers), geography in 
general, history of Spain, practical agriculture, good manners and singing 
were taught.

Girls lamentably were not taught history, geography or agriculture but they 
had lessons in “labores propios”. (One gets the impression that this meant 
sewing and embroidery and other household tasks.)

In towns that had 5,000 souls, a school was to be established for each sex. 
In those with more than 10,000, the number was to be doubled. A school was 
to be added for every 5,000 inhabitants. In very distant visitas of towns 
with 500 residents, a school for each sex was to be established, and if 
there were many visitas, the school was to be located in the most central 
part of town.

Schools for boys were of three types: The first was in towns whose residents 
exceeded 500, the middle was those situated in towns of 10,000 and the last 
was located in towns that had more than 20,000. The schools for girls were 
not classified and were considered to be of the same category.

The schools for boys had teachers who had gone through the required courses 
and passed the examinations in the Escuela Normal de Manila. Those who 
graduated with honors began their careers in schools of the second category 
and some of them got automatic promotion every third year of service, 
provided there were no unfavorable comments against them.

In the event of a lack of certified graduate teachers, schools could still 
be established with qualified primary school assistants who had studied in 
the Normal School. If there were none available, those who had been examined 
by the Provincial Commission of Primary Instruction in reading, writing, 
arithmetic, the Spanish language, catechism, geography and passed the 
examination could be hired.

There were also substitute assistants nominated by the provincial chiefs 
upon the recommendation of the local inspector with the concurrence of the 

The girls’ teachers were of two types: those properly called teachers of 
primary education who completed three years of studies at the Escuela Normal 
de Nueva Caceres and passed the general examination, and those who passed 
the examination in Manila before a special commission and were considered 
qualified for the job. There were also substitute teachers whose entry into 
the profession was based on the same qualifications as those of the regular 

The schools for both sexes in the provinces numbered 870 for boys and 794 
for girls. Among the students, 84,331 were boys and 70,275 were girls. 
Granted the education received was only as good as the teachers and their 
material, still the students of this generation were among those who would 
opt for independence in 1896 and 1898 and many of them would die for it.

Fr. John Schumacher pointed out that higher education in the Philippines, 
despite its defects, “was not far behind, or, under certain respects, was 
even superior to the general level of higher education in Spain, at least 
outside Madrid.”

We have no record of any of the ilustrados encountering difficulties in 
keeping up with their fellow students in the universities abroad. Limited as 
the curriculum was, the Philippines was also ahead of some European 
countries in offering education for women.

Was it merely content or was it academic freedom that the students were 
after? If we view the education of that period in relation to whether the 
university enabled them to have the vision to direct society to its national 
goals, the revolution of 1896 and even more the war of 1898 must prove that 
education had a stronger influence than what has been credited to it.
©2002 www.inq7.net all rights reserved

Source: Daily Inquirer, Apr. 05, 2002
URL: http://www.inq7.net/opi/2002/apr/06/text/opi_blharper-1-p.htm

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